Pubdate: Wed, 10 Apr 2013
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Copyright: 2013 Detroit Free Press
Author: Christina Hall


An explosion and fire at a Macomb County apartment building two weeks 
ago could be a precursor of things to come as the use of hash oil 
extracted from marijuana gains in popularity in Michigan.

The March 24 explosion, which knocked the Harrison Township apartment 
building off its foundation and injured four people, erupted when a 
propane torch was introduced in the process to extract THC from 
marijuana plants in one of the apartments, igniting flammable gases.

Such incidents are a new phenomenon for local police investigators, 
but they are on the rise nationally, especially on the West Coast and 
in states with legalized use and availability of medical marijuana.

A drop or two of the hash oil, experts said, is as potent as a single 
marijuana cigarette. But the process for extracting the oil can be 
dangerous, as the March blast illustrated.

The process in Harrison Township involved butane, which is flammable, 
Macomb County Sheriff's Capt. Elizabeth Darga said.

"If you've got fumes and an open flame, you've got disaster," she said.

Defenders say they believe cannabis oil is allowed under Michigan's 
medical marijuana law, although some authorities may disagree. Under 
the 2008 voter-approved initiative, state-registered medical 
marijuana users can have up to 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana and 12 
marijuana plants if they don't have a caregiver to cultivate 
marijuana for them.

Cannabis oil has been produced in large quantities for about a year 
in Michigan and as there are more success stories about its healing 
properties, production is expected to continue to rise, said Rick 
Thompson, editor of the online news magazine the Compassion 
Chronicles and public relations director for Michigan Americans for 
Safe Access, a new affiliate of a national nonprofit group that 
advocates for legal access to medical marijuana.

He said the oil can be eaten, smoked or used topically and is 
commonly used in Michigan for healing, such as in creams and 
ointments to rub on cancer lesions or arthritic joints.The five 
people involved in the March blast in Harrison Township did not have 
medical marijuana licenses, Darga said. She said the oil was being 
created for personal use.

The blast caused about $500,000 in damage and three of the four 
injured people suffered severe burns, including to the face.

"People attempting to do this and people not knowing exactly what 
they're doing, this could lead to disaster," said Special Agent Rich 
Isaacson of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Detroit Field Division.

Experts said the process to make the oil includes washing plant parts 
in a solvent and using heat to burn off the solvent.

Isaacson said the hash oil extraction blast at Beachwood Apartments 
may be the only one in Michigan that the agency has encountered. He 
said any signs of new drug or drug use trends are a concern to the 
DEA and "there is some anecdotal evidence that the use of hash oil 
may be on the increase."

Incidents involving fires and explosions from hash oil extractions 
are on the rise across the country, according to a U.S. Fire 
Administration bulletin released in February. The administration 
called for training first responders, fire marshals, bomb squads and 
drug task force personnel. Items used in the extraction process 
include butane cans, alcohol, glass dishes, ether and coffee filters.

The bulletin, which did not provide statistics, said that reported 
fires and explosions have blown out windows and walls and caused 
burns. There have been a handful of news media reports of such 
incidents in California, including an explosion that rocked a hotel 
near SeaWorld San Diego in January.

Tony Sanfilippo, assistant state fire marshal/deputy director of the 
Bureau of Fire Services, said Michigan fire authorities haven't had 
cases of fires or explosions from hash oil extractions. Sanfilippo 
said firefighters often know when they come across a meth lab and 
report it to law enforcement. The federal bulletin said fires and 
explosions from hash oil extractions can be mistaken for a pipe bomb 
or a meth lab explosion.

Paul Tylenda, a Grosse Pointe Park defense attorney for the medical 
marijuana community, said more people are discovering ways to extract 
active ingredients from marijuana plants. Like anything else, he 
said, there are people who know what they are doing, and those who 
don't "will suffer the consequences."

The injured in the Harrison Township fire included the 19-year-old 
man who leased the apartment, who Darga said was burned on his face; 
a 21-year-old Harrison Township woman who lived there; a 22-year-old 
Clinton Township man, and an 18-year-old Harrison Township man. The 
22-year-old brother of the apartment lessee was not hurt, the 
Sheriff's Office said.

Darga said no criminal charges have been filed. The case was 
forwarded to the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office for review.

The lessee initially told authorities the stove exploded and that he 
was the only one home. Authorities later determined that four other 
people fled before deputies arrived, though one returned to the scene.

Through witness statements, interviews and a review of evidence, 
authorities said, they determined those in the apartment were using a 
chemical process to extract THC from marijuana plants in the kitchen. 
A propane torch was brought into the process, igniting the flammable 
gases, causing the explosion, the Sheriff's Office said.

Last week, yellow caution tape still stretched into the parking lot 
in front of the boarded-up apartment building, where a wall buckled 
from the blast. Part of the yard was littered with personal belongings.

Fifteen units were affected and nine people are back in their homes, 
said Chad Paavola, regional property manager for GFI Management, 
which owns the 342-unit complex and plans to rebuild the affected building.

He said people in three of the affected units moved out, and 
residents in three others were transferred to different homes at the 
complex. The man who leased the unit where the blast occurred was not 
one of the people transferred to another on-site location, he said.

"It does put a hardship on all parties involved," Paavola said.

Thompson said explosions like the one at Beachwood Apartments "are 
extremely rare.

"What would be great is if the production of cannabis oil would not 
be demonized by law enforcement and driven underground," Thompson said.

If it was legalized, he said, people wouldn't have to "conduct 
experiments in their own kitchen."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom